Billy Cool and the Whips at Scarlet and Grey Cafe

Billy Cool and the Whips at Scarlet and Grey Cafe

March 27, 2010 – Billy Cool and the Whips hail from our hometown of Columbus and have a wonderful classic sound. They incorporate good classic rock with slamming funk tunes. Their roster includes Billy Cool on vocals/guitar, Bones Malone on guitar, Harry Lowdener on bass, and Trapkit Jones on drums. They seem to be a recent addition to the Columbus music scene, but nonetheless know how to rock it.

I started my night out planning to go to a different bar further north on the High street strip, but finding out that not a whole lot was going on in the Clintonville area decided to take a chance on a bar just north of campus proper, the Scarlet and Grey Cafe. I have had the pleasure of playing this venue before and know that generally speaking for it’s size it has an awesome sound system both on stage and off, but of course that comes at a price. When I got to the door there were a few people milling around smoking cigarettes and chatting with each other. On approaching the door one of them jumped in front of me and asked, “Have you already been in?” Not sure what to say to this I let him know that I had not so he followed me into the bar and stopped at a quaint little podium a few feet in from the door. He promptly asked me, “which band are you here to see?” I responded that I had no idea and inquired as to who was playing. He looked at me like I was a madman, obviously feeling that people just don’t go out and see shows in this town. This was a little disheartening.

You see, the Scarlet and Grey Cafe has some quirks which inexcusably hurts the Columbus music scene. First off, I don’t appreciate the assumption that people only go out to see particular bands and I know full well that if I were to name a band from the list that the other bands playing wouldn’t see a dime of my money. Actually, at the Cafe it seems more often than not that even if you pack the place you only see a very small portion of the door. Trust me on this; I’ve had it happen to me more than once. I know the old of adage fool me once… but people keep asking bands I play in to play there and sometimes it’s all about returning favors. Anyhow, back to the sinister that is the Scarlet and Grey Cafe of which I used to have fond memories back when I was at the Ohio State University. At that time it was a scary little Ethiopian restaurant/bar which was the first place I ever tasted Ethiopian food.

Basically what happens is the bar doesn’t want to pay bands to play there, so they work out this deal where the door money is given to the bands but, and this is a big but, they also don’t want to pay for sound. It seems that this place would be happier if they didn’t have live music at all, at least from a musician’s perspective. Some bars do deals like this, but at least they help out in other ways like discounted or free beer. This place has trouble even dropping their prices most of the time. So that precious door money that a band is supposed to get has to first have the sound guys’ fee taken out, then whatever is left goes to the band. Now most bands don’t like promoting a show in which they only see a small portion of money and some of us are doing this so we don’t have to work the day job. Basically we get a defeating circle. The band doesn’t want to piss away their friends’ and fans’ money on a bar that is already taking them hand and fist, especially since most patrons assume that some cash is going the musicians way. This brings in less cash for the bar, then the bar raises the bar on screwing the bands to assure that they make more money. It’s very similar to COTA. Nobody rides the few line offerings at the times they have so they reduce the number of lines and buses running due to reduced cash flow. Even less people find it useful, thus fewer people ride. The cycle continues until nothing is left of any value.

Carabar, to the east, has it down though. Albeit they mostly have hipsters and other “groups” of people there, that place is usually packed. What’s nice is that I know I can go there any time and not have to pay a stupid idiot tax at the door. I know for a fact that a portion of my cash is finding it’s way to the musicians playing and it’s split evenly amongst them. This is especially important on campus where if I’m out looking for a drink and the bars’ door guy says five dollars I know I could pay that or I can walk 40 feet down the street and buy a beer or two for that amount of money and not have to pay to get in. The Scarlet and Grey Cafe has a chance to be the Carabar of campus with it’s awesome sound and great proximity to campus, but I fear that will never happen.

Billy Cool and the Whips at Scarlet and Grey Cafe

Billy Cool and the Whips at Scarlet and Grey Cafe

All of this occurred to me while I was sitting alone in a bar of about 20 people waiting for the current band to finish and Billy Cool and the Whips to start. When they took the stage I was scared. The lead singer looks like a throw back to 70s butt rock and the other guys on stage were less than notable. Then they laid into their first song which started with Cool holding a pair of maracas in his hand to set the tempo. They blasted through with a wall of funk/jazz that damn near pushed me out of my seat. They were using thick bass lines that seemed to weave excellently with the drums and guitar. Cools’ voice was surprisingly amazing with a rough Mojo Nixon meets Jimi Hendrix feel. He also moved around the stage like a Muppet on crack. I was moving along to the music and enjoying it profusely.

The fourth song in the bassist took the vocals and sang a song about a “chili cook-off”. While I did really enjoy his bass playing which is something to truly be commended for, I didn’t care at all for his vocals. By this time the club was really starting to fill up and they were going through a slew of cool but unmemorable songs. At some point they played a song which brought images of later Otis Redding to my head. It was pretty cool, but I didn’t catch the name of it and after they completed this they started passing out CD’s. This was very nice of them as they disappeared faster than free hotcakes at a Southern Baptist bake sale.

The rest of their show was a lot of the same and I felt at about song nine that they should have probably stopped at song eight. It’s hard to know about these things while on the stage. Nobody wants to get a whole bunch of gear out to cut six to eight songs in front of a crowd, but I think a lot of bands would do better keeping in mind that us new listeners can only handle so much of a single style at a time. Otherwise I’d say go and see this band at least once, talent on stage was there in abundance. Also, it’s an easy sell if it’s your type of music. For me, the thick bass lines and strong kick of the drums entranced me. The guitar licks were well thought out and placed wonderfully. The vocals were on and lyrics were amusing when understandable.

Billy Cool and the Whips can be found on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/billycoolandthewhips.

-V-